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Frette’s double jacquard loom
Lifestyle

Behind Frette, the world’s most luxurious linens

On a visit to Frette’s manufacturing facilities outside Milan, our writer gains a firsthand look at the skill and sensory detail that go into the world’s most comprehensive bespoke linens.

A floral design is painted on paper
In the Como mill, a designer paints a floral design on paper that may later become a fabric pattern.

I’m caressing covers of crisp percale, kneading my hands into pillowcases of fine poplin and stroking cushions of lustrous sateen. Choosing bed linen is an intimate affair. Until you feel the fabrics, you can’t truly appreciate the difference between the sheets.

I am at Frette’s flagship store in Milan, located in a handsome townhouse on Via della Spiga, one of the city’s most illustrious shopping promenades. Since opening its doors in the late 1800s, Frette has made it its business to seduce us. Founder Edmond Frette began manufacturing luxury textiles near Monza in northern Italy in 1865 after relocating from his hometown of Grenoble in France. He was one of the first linen merchants to produce jacquard – intricate designs achieved by a mechanical loom imported from his homeland that used punch cards to control the weave. 

The Italian royal family and European nobility soon fell for Frette’s luxurious fabrics emblazoned with their monograms and crests.

The company flourished, dressing the dining tables of the Orient Express, the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica and the beds of many of the world’s most illustrious hotels, including the Danieli and the Savoy, Raffles and the Ritz. Today, Frette’s hospitality connections continue to thrive, alongside more than 100 boutiques. The Frette range of bed, bath and table linens, robes, blankets and throws, nightwear and home fragrances are highly sought after by devoted clients and interior designers of the world’s finest homes, yachts and jets.

Silver Linings

Since 2015, the Milan boutique has offered the Frette Bespoke experience, which I’ve joined today. “This is how Frette once worked with noble families and royalty,” explains Andrea Warden, the company’s brand director. “It’s the most comprehensive bespoke offer that you can get in the bed linen market.”

Andrea Warden in Frette’s Milan store
Andrea Warden displays merchandise and monogram samples in Frette’s Milan flagship store.

It begins with a thorough delve into my personal preferences. Sitting either side of a vintage walnut measuring table from one of the early Italian Frette factories, Warden asks, “Think of what you like the feel of, especially against your face.” She first presents me with numerous loose samples, and then guides me to the linens on a perfectly made bed.

The way that a fabric is woven (cotton can be characterized by terms such as poplin, percale and sateen) defines how it feels on your skin. We then talk colors and all the possible embellishments. I’m smitten by a sham border of diaphanous macramé lace, as complex as a snowflake. Also, a duvet set hand-painted with a riot of spring flowers by Italian artist Lisa Rampilli.

The finishing touch to Frette’s customization experience: the monogram. Warden produces a colossal book brimming with letters in abundant styles, from scrolling romantic to Art Deco, and crowns, emblems and motifs of all kinds. One client, I learn, had his super-yacht outfitted with bed linen, robes and towels for each of its 10 staterooms and bathrooms – the colors and designs of the 10 sets were different, but each item bore the logo of the yacht. Another client commissioned an order of bespoke table linen ornately embellished with inset gold embroidery for a Middle Eastern palace.

“Today’s clients want linens custom-made to their taste, identity and private environment,” explains CEO Hervé Martin as we meet over a dinner of veal Milanese at an enchanting restaurant in the Brera district, festooned with twinkling lights.

Martin, who joined the company in 2014 after honing his perception of luxury retail at Baccarat, Salvatore Ferragamo, Kenzo, Louis Vuitton and Cartier, is tasked with balancing Frette’s traditions with fresh ideas. “It’s a brand that should respect its heritage but also be in search of constant redefinition,” he says.

Uncommon Thread

Frette fabrics are intertwined with fashion and are as much about making a style statement as inducing restful sleep. So I’m not surprised to be told that Frette’s partner in production, a weaving mill that I’m about to visit, also produces material for top luxury brands. Located in a sleek and contemporary warehouse in Como, a city regarded as the center of the world’s luxury textiles industry, this prestigious facility manufactures 2.5 million meters of materials every year. Frette is its only linen client, and every button and label is accounted for to preserve authenticity.

In the mill’s design studio, four artists are delicately painting floral designs on to paper or cotton canvas with slender brushes. Following a design consultation with Frette, this is how the patterns are first formed. Then, computer-aided drafting experts scan the work, accentuate the detail, ensure the color fidelity and separate all the design elements into digital layers for the potential fabric effects to be discussed. Together, Frette and the manufacturer consider the best textures to use for each color, a finished concept that will then be actualized by the jacquard loom.

Frette’s flagship store
The exterior of Frette’s flagship store in Milan, on Via della Spiga.

I’m guided past hundreds of crates filled with a kaleidoscope of yarns and spools of cashmere, wool and silk – superior raw materials sourced on demand by the mill’s team for Frette. I hear the persistent din of the weaving machines well before I see them. The facility houses 100 looms for designer fashion clients and six double-width jacquard looms that produce the size required for Frette’s linens and fabrics. The double jacquard loom is 3.5 meters high, 3 meters wide and has 26,400 needles frantically weaving the warp (vertical threads) and weft (horizontal threads). Each needle is threaded with a single yarn that’s controlled by the digital jacquard machine above. When weaving is complete, the Como fabric designed in Monza will be rigorously tested for strength and durability. Lace will be made in Varese, embroidery completed in Puglia, before all the elements convene to be meticulously "hand finished" by artisans at the Frette Cut & Sew laboratories, also in Puglia.

From a cascade of threads on the jacquard loom, I see a gleaming and flawless pink fabric in silk and cotton with silvery swirls materialize before my eyes. When it will hit the shelves, few will think of the more than 156 years of technical expertise that led to its creation. To the touch, however, it will be unmistakably Frette – the fibers, finish and feel that are the stuff of dreams.

This story was originally printed in issue 27 of Experience magazine published October 31st, 2016.

Cabin Comforts

On board a business jet, Frette linens lend a distinctive touch of home to the in-flight experience. It seemed natural then that Bombardier Business Aircraft and Frette should work together to showcase how Frette linens can complete the look of a jet interior. This year, they combined their expertise to outfit the Global 7500 mock-up at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition. The bedroom of the jet’s unique, true four-zone cabin was furnished with the Illusione design in mineral blue (a classic Frette fabric in cotton sateen with an interlocking rhomboid motif), the living room was accented with gold silk monogrammed cushions and the dining table was set with a jacquard cotton sateen tablecloth and triple line embroidered linen placemats. Says Frette CEO Hervé Martin, “Bombardier gives its clients the ability to achieve their object of desire and well-being. My objective is to accompany our clients, wherever they go, with our best products.”

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